May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Yachad Gifts Opens First Retail Store

Brandon Levine, a Yachad Gifts trainee, stands before a table lined with a dozen wicker baskets. Four floors below him, Coney Island Avenue’s cacophony of honking horns provides an apt accompaniment to busy hands. Brandon sticks a glue dot on the back of a gold coffee packet, then attaches the packet to a cookie box, which sits among the other treats he already placed in the basket. The glue keeps the carefully arranged bouquet of items intact for their trip to an upcoming Shabbaton or family simcha.

“I enjoy this work,” says Brandon, 24. “I’m gaining skills. I’m an adult and this gives me practice. Practice makes perfect!”

For Brandon, who has a developmental disability, jobs are hard to come by. Although he currently volunteers at Parkville Food Center in Brooklyn, he has never had a paid job.

According to the United States Department of Labor, people with disabilities are much less likely to be employed than those without a disability. Its statistics indicate that 20 percent of Americans have a disability and nearly 70 percent of them are unemployed.

“For all the gains Yachad has made in educating the community to the fact that everyone needs and deserves to feel they belong, when it comes to employment we, as a community and society, have made little progress,” says Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, international director of Yachad, the flagship program of the Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities. “People would sooner write a check than give individuals a chance at a job in their stores or corporations.”

Taking matters into their own hands, Yachad launched Yachad Gifts in 2013. The premise was simple: artisanal gift baskets put together by individuals with disabilities. Most of the workers are part of the Yachad vocational program. Yachad Gifts currently boasts a staff of nine paid workers, four of whom are Yachad members, and 20 volunteers with disabilities.

To drum up interest in Yachad’s unique service, Stuart Gourdji, manager of YachadGifts.com, took advantage of the OU’s worldwide synagogue partnerships and contacted every shul on the OU synagogue database, advertising the project. As sales continued to increase, Yachad Gifts outgrew its cramped office on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn and moved to a more spacious one, affording them ample room to produce, store, and showcase, as well as sell, their wares.

“YachadGifts.com is the perfect way for us to accomplish multiple goals,” explains Allen Fagin, the OU’s executive vice president and chief professional officer. “First, it provides meaningful jobs and vocational training to a number of our Yachad participants. Second, it provides everyone with a wonderful opportunity to support Yachad’s activities and its overarching goal of successful Inclusion. And finally, it is a wonderful way to celebrate a simcha.”

To date Yachad Gifts has sold approximately 7,000 baskets. As the enterprise grows, so too does its hiring potential, allowing more individuals with disabilities the chance for employment.

Each workday, Suri Baum, the YachadGifts.com job coach, demonstrates what needs to be done with a particular basket order and helps each worker get started. “It’s a good feeling to teach them something new,” she says. “I can see a change in their skill level. They get to a point where they can independently make the packages.”

Yachad Gifts offers Yachad members the opportunity to develop skills that can be transitioned into other work environments. They participate in every step of production – taking phone orders, shopping for the baskets, filling them, taking inventory, restocking shelves and keeping the store clean. Talia Forman manages an internal photography booth: she places a gift basket in the proper area and takes photos to be displayed online and in promotional material. Moishe Hammer regularly delivers gift baskets to the homes of customers who live in the New York City area. Chaim Goldman, together with a Yachad Gifts staff member, travels to boutiques and kosher supermarkets, encouraging them to display the Yachad-manufactured products.

Dr. Lichtman explains that having a job is a psychological necessity. “If a person, no matter his or her disability, is not contributing, it creates a sense of frustration and undermines self-esteem,” he says.

Chaim Goldman concurs. “If I didn’t have a job, I’d be stressed out. I enjoy meeting new people, talking with the customers. I’m positive and polite; I say, ‘excuse me; would you like to take a look at the gift baskets?’ They hired me because I’m the best salesman.”

“If we don’t, it’s a waste of a valuable resource. And people with disabilities are a resource. We have to open opportunities for them, even if that means creating opportunities.”

To place an order, please visit YachadGifts.com or call the toll-free number: 855-505-7500.You can also visit the Yachad Gifts retail store at 1090 Coney Island Avenue (fourth floor) Brooklyn, NY, 11230 (between Avenue H and Foster Avenue). The store hours are Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 5p.m. and Fridays 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

By Bayla Sheva Brenner

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